Friday, January 30, 2015

On This Day in History: Attack on New Providence

On this day in 1778, the Continental Navy sloop Providence (12 guns) sailed from the Bahamas after staging a successful attack on the island of New Providence. Formerly known as Katy while part of the Rhode Island state navy, the ship entered Continental service in December 1776. Captain John P. Rathbun, a native Rhode Islander, approached the capital of Nassau late on the night of the 27th with Providence disguised as a trading sloop. Under cover of darkness, twenty-six Marines commanded by Captain John Trevett landed outside Fort Nassau, scaled its walls, and quickly overpowered the two guards. The next morning they received the surrender of neighboring Fort Montague as well. With the harbor now safe to enter, Captain Rathbun brought Providence close in to Fort Nassau and loaded all the captured gunpowder and small arms he could carry. The British sloop Grayton appeared on the horizon around noon and began approaching cautiously, but sympathetic townspeople signaled her to be wary of the fort and its new occupants. She withdrew, encouraged by a few shots from the fort’s guns. Rathbun departed on the morning of the 30th with three captured ships and a group of about twenty American seamen who had been prisoners of the British.

Purchased by the Naval War College Foundation for the NWC Museum

The Naval War College Museum is home to this beautiful dockyard-style model of the Providence. Built by craftsmen at the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin in Maryland, the model measures approximately four feet from gaff boom to bowsprit. It features an exposed hull beneath the waterline that allows the viewer to observe details of the ship’s frame.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On This Day in History: The Great White Fleet

Gift of Mrs. Emily C. Yarnell and Ms. Ruth Thomas

On this day in 1907, the Great White Fleet departed Norfolk, VA on a fourteen-month cruise around the world. Initially commanded by RADM Robley D. Evans, the fleet included sixteen battleships painted gleaming white plus a handful of auxiliary vessels. President Theodore Roosevelt’s orders were to show the flag and signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. was capable of projecting power around the globe. It can be difficult to appreciate what an unprecedented undertaking this was for the time. Although small squadrons of ships had completed cruises around the world, nobody had attempted a circumnavigation with a battle fleet of this size. The journey covered 43,000 miles and included stops at twenty ports on six continents before concluding in February 1909.

The fleet arrived in San Francisco on May 6, 1908. So many people wanted to see the Navy’s new steel battleships that the number of riders on the ferries crossing the Bay reportedly increased by 450,000 during the first week alone. This photograph shows the fleet leaving on July 7, 1908 under the command of RADM Charles M. Sperry (tenth President of the Naval War College) who replaced Evans due to illness. The rear of the line is passing by Alcatraz Island while the lead ships are approximately where the Golden Gate Bridge stands today (it opened in 1937). The photograph was presented to the Museum in 1956 by Mrs. Emily C. Yarnell and Ms. Ruth Thomas. Their father, RADM Charles M. Thomas, served as second in command of the fleet until suddenly passing away from a heart attack in San Francisco.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Hawaiian Invasion Money

Gift of Mr. Robert D. Young

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the events of that day have been well documented, the American response to the attack in the months that followed has received less attention. Even while recovery efforts were still underway, military and civilian leaders began planning for the possibility of another attack, this time by a larger force bent on capturing the Hawaiian Islands and incorporating them into the Japanese empire. Officials hoped to minimize the damage should such a disaster occur, especially with respect to the effects on the U.S. economy. To that end, in January 1942 the military governor of Hawaii began recalling all U.S. currency then in circulation and replacing it with special “invasion money.” These bills had the word “Hawaii” printed on both sides with the intention that if they fell into Japanese hands, they would no longer be accepted as legal tender anywhere in the United States. About 65 million notes were produced in $1, $5, $10, and $20 denominations. It was not until October 21, 1944 that authorities deemed Hawaii secure enough to discontinue the use of invasion currency. Many service members who traveled through Pearl Harbor collected the notes and kept them as souvenirs after the war.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On This Day in History: Launching of USS Maine (ACR-1)

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the launching of USS Maine (ACR-1) at the New York Navy Yard. Displacing 6,682 tons, Maine was rated as a second-class battleship and incorporated some of the latest design elements seen in European navies. Her main armament consisted of four 10" guns mounted in two turrets offset from the centerline. This arrangement allowed all four guns to fire ahead or astern, greatly reducing the threat posed by an enemy who performed a "crossing the T" maneuver.

Maine operated off the East Coast of the United States and in the Carribean four almost three years before her fateful voyage to Cuba in early 1898. On the evening of 15 February, an explosion rocked the ship and sank her in minutes, resulting in the deaths of 260 crew members (6 more died later from their injuries). In 1912, the Army Corps of Engineers raised the wreck of the Maine to allow naval investigators to perform a thorough inspection of the hull. They also recovered artifacts such as this steel rivet and sighting glass (used to show water levels inside a tank or boiler), then sent them back to the United States where they became popular souvenir items.

Artifacts pictured

Model of USS Maine                               
Gift of Kenneth L. Waters to the Naval War College Foundation

Steel Rivet from wreck of USS Maine
Gift of Joseph J. MacDougald to the Naval War College Foundation

Sighting Glass from wreck of USS Maine
Gift of Charles Slocum to the Naval War College Foundation

Friday, November 7, 2014

On This Day in History: Battle of Port Royal, SC

                                Carte de visite, Rear Admiral Samuel F. Dupont
                                On loan from Ambassaodor J. William Middendorf II

On this day in 1861, the U.S. Navy, Army, and Marine Corps carried out one of the early joint operations of the Civil War. Under the command of Flag Officer Samuel F. DuPont (nephew of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, founder of the DuPont chemical company), a force consisting of 77 ships and over 12,500 soldiers attacked two forts guarding the entrance to Port Royal Sound and forced the surrender of the Confederate defenders. Employing a tactic that had already proven successful a few months earlier at Hatteras Inlet, DuPont’s ships sailed in an elliptical pattern between Forts Walker and Beauregard and bombarded both as they came in to range. Aiding the attackers was the fact that the forts were separated by a three-mile-wide channel and were not in mutually supporting positions. Fire from the Union ships steadily reduced both forts and after four hours of fighting, the Confederates abandoned their defenses. A small landing party of Marines went ashore to assume control of the forts before handing them over to Army Brigadier General Horatio Wright’s brigade.

DuPont won praise for his successful attack and was promoted to rear admiral the following July. Convinced of his abilities, the Navy sent him nine new ironclad warships and ordered him to assault the city of Charleston in 1863. Unfortunately for DuPont, the ironclads lacked the firepower to seriously damage coastal fortifications and were forced to withdraw after an unsuccessful bombardment. DuPont subsequently fell out of favor with the Department of the Navy and was replaced as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron by Rear Admiral John Dahlgren. He died in 1865 and is buried in the du Pont family cemetery (Samuel was the only member of the family to capitalize the ‘d’) in Greeneville, DE.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Portrait of Lieutenant William B. Cushing

                                  Lieutenant William B. Cushing (1842-1874), portrait undated
                                  Artist unknown
                                  Gift of Ambassador J. William Middendorf II

Civil War naval buffs probably recognize Lieutenant William B. Cushing from his daring exploit on the Roanoke River in October 1864. On this evening 150 years ago, Cushing led 22 men in two small boats on a mission to sink CSS Albemarle, an ironclad that was positioned to stop Union forces from penetrating further inland.

One of Cushing’s boats was a steam launch outfitted with a spar torpedo that he planned to detonate after drawing up next to Albemarle. His approach did not go undetected, though, as sentries on the shore spotted the steam launch and began firing at the Union men. Albemarle was also protected by floating log booms, but they had been in the water so long that they were covered with a heavy slime which allowed Cushing’s boat to ride up and over them.

Finally, when he was close enough, Cushing detonated the torpedo which blew a hole in Albemarle right at the waterline and sank her immediately. The force of the explosion severely damaged the steam launch as well, forcing Cushing’s men to swim for shore and attempt to evade Confederate patrols. Of the crew on the steam launch, eleven were captured and two drowned. Only Cushing and one other man escaped back to Union lines. 26 years later, the Navy named its first ocean-going torpedo boat after Cushing. A model of USS Cushing (TB-1) is currently on display in the torpedo station gallery.

                                   Model of USS Cushing (TB-1)
                                   Built by Pasquale J. Bianco of Cranston, RI

Friday, October 24, 2014

Artifact Spotlight: Captain John Winslow Portrait, c.1870

                                                      Rear Admiral John A. Winslow (1811-1873), c.1870
                                                      Artist unknown
                                                      Gift of Ambassador J. William Middendorf II
One of our most recent acquisitions is this portrait from the collection of Ambassador John William Middendorf II. The officer pictured is Rear Admiral John Winslow, best known as the commanding officer of USS Kearsarge, the ship that sank the Confederate raider CSS Alabama during the Civil War. Before taking command of Kearsarge, then-Captain Winslow spent much of 1861 and 1862 on the Mississippi River where he assisted Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote in fitting out Union gunboats. 152 years ago today, while in command of USS Baron de Kalb (formerly named St. Louis), Winslow found himself conducting a small-scale amphibious operation while patrolling a section of the river in Arkansas. As he later described to the commanding officer of the Western Gunboat Flotilla, Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter:
“A report having reached me yesterday that a small party of guerrillas had entered the town of Hopefield, opposite to this vessel, I dispatched Mr. Medill (carpenter), with 25 men, to capture the party. On gaining the bank by our men, the guerillas took to flight, when a pursuit followed by such of the men as had procured horses by impressment. The guerrillas were followed up for some 8 or 9 miles, at the end of which they were all captured.” - Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
Winslow was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1870 and commanded the Pacific Squadron for two years before retiring. When he died in Boston in 1873, his coffin was draped with the battle flag of the Kearsarge. Two ships in the U.S. Navy have been named USS Winslow in his honor: TB-5, a torpedo boat from the Spanish-American War, and DD-53, an O’Brien class destroyer that served during WWI.